'˜We have to forsake Commercial Road for our city to really flourish' '“ trader comes up with suggestion to breathe new life into Portsmouth

Retailer and trader Tom Pearson, 33, is the co-founder of PO1Realness, an independent apparel and clothing brand based in Old Portsmouth. Here Tom, who has lived in Portsmouth for more than 10 years, explains what he would suggest to give the city's shopping a shot in the arm Â

Monday, 24th December 2018, 2:23 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 10:52 am
Gunwharf Quays

For decades Portsmouth has seen plans for the city centre, develop and unceremoniously fall away. The once bustling Commercial Road now has less to offer shoppers than Fareham or even Whiteley. 

With so many High Street brands struggling, store closures have come thick and fast and at the fastest rate since the recession hurt our local economy in 2008

We've seen once-strong brands '“ Marks and Spencer, Mothercare, and New Look '“ leave Commercial Road or shrink (New Look is now tiny!). And while the grassroots of development are very much being seen around Portsmouth and Southsea railway station, it's a very different story to the north of the city. 

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Commercial Road in Portsmouth

We can thank private investment bringing new hotels, new (albeit empty) retail units  and purpose-built residential buildings to the top of Commercial Road. It's certainly not enough to spark retailers to return or come to Commercial Road. Well-serviced retail parks have again won over customers with plentiful free parking. 

Shopping is incredibly fragmented and in some areas of Portsmouth and Southsea completely unsustainable. It's clear that department stores will all but die out over the next 10 years unless large changes in their very format is reworked. 

Gunwharf has fast become the destination shopping area. It's attractive, has plenty of leisure opportunities and accessible shopping links'¦ it is however a compromise; full of tiny shops that don't hold this season's stock or even full product collections, and there is no Post Office, sizeable supermarket or banks. However, right next to Gunwharf Quays the MoD holds large swathes of land as sports grounds. 

The only regeneration to retail we should be asking for is a land-swap with the council to allow a non-discount shopping destination built right next to Gunwharf offering extra parking and larger retail units for high street stores, banks, post office and a supermarket.

Tom Pearson of PO1Realness

This would make Portsmouth much more desirable for a day of shopping and fill the missing link between our ever-growing university, the nightlife of Guildhall, the prestige of Gunwharf and the culture of Southsea and Old Portsmouth. This should also see The Hard become more included and used as part of our city. 

We have to forsake Commercial Road for our city to really flourish. 

It isn't the first time in our city's history that its shopping habits have dramatically changed. Kings Road, just off Elm Grove was once a busy shopping area until it was flattened by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War and is now an area of social housing. 

Just around the corner High Street in Old Portsmouth was once a bustling street of pubs, shops and places of disrepute. It's now become an area of culture, harbouring some of the most coverted housing in Portsmouth. 

Ever heard of Old Commercial Road? The old alignment is also now mostly a residential area surrounded by hastily built social housing. 

Our shopping habits have changed, and using Gunwharf to kick-start retail regeneration is the best way for the local economy to grow. Personally I'm not a fan of discount shopping outlets, they devalue brands and produce unsustainable shopping habits. However, with Gunwharf attracting shoppers from as far wide as China and Russia maybe we should be digging where there's potatoes. 

Controversial? Yes. However, a switch of ownership would allow the Royal Navy to occupy land all in one place to the north-east of the city, providing new green spaces to a drab, dying and architecturally poor Commercial Road, allowing for more housing and to kick-start the regeneration of social housing in Somerstown and Buckland. 

Essentially, making one strong shopping destination is better than having two or three poor or flawed shopping areas. This land-swap could be then sold to Land Securities, the owners of Gunwharf Quays, to allow for private investment to build a true waterfront city centre. 

Then, with any hope the city council can finally deliver us the new road layout and Tipner Gateway to Portsmouth. We are still waiting...